Samarkand and beyond
Samarkand is essentially a city and at least for me did not quite have the charm and small town feel of Bukhara. The historic part is well preserved and is partly still in the process of being renovated. It was good to relax at Bahodir and take evening strolls in the cooler evening air. The cyclists I had met in Bukhara, Dan and Ritzo left a couple of days before me as their Tajik visas were already valid. Then Patrick and Andreas from Berne and Disentis respectively turned up. Andreas had independently followed Patrick overland from Switzerland hearing various stories through Serbia, Turkey and Iran from other travellers about him, but this was actually the first time they met and my first time since leaving home to hear Schwiizerduutsch again.
After several days break here and unashamed amounts of ice cream, beer and pizza, I headed back out to the real Uzbekistan. The following days were again hot and the daily rhythm was to leave early (around 5am), relax somewhere from 11am – 5pm and then cycle the second shift. The people here are amazingly kind and hospitable. I was put up in someones house where the wife was celebrating her birthday. It was approaching darkness and I had asked where I could pitch my tent when the invitation came. Not only did I get a bed (futon on the floor), but also copious amounts of food. On the road there are simply so many invites for grapes or melon that most simply have to be declined with a polite wave of the hand.
Other than for overlanders travelling between Europe and Asia, Uzbekistan will never make it as a major cycle touring destination. Even the main roads can be quite rough and after a solid section of asphalt, gravel and stones can appear for several km without notice. The landscape also becomes relatively monotonous with days of flat roads flanked by cotton fields and sporadic houses. The cyclist here is for many like some kind of zoo animal to be shouted at, hooted at and laughed at. The intention is in most cases good, but after a while it becomes tedious and any of these actions were simply ignored unless they were in my immediate field of vision, when they would get a ‘hello’ in return. Perhaps more annoying and certainly more dangerous are the small shared taxis (marshrutkas as they are called here) which, at the site of a potential passenger, can pull out or pull in at no notice. Other interesting highlights here were:
* Huge quantities of money and the black market. The official rate is 2500 Som / USD but on the black market you can get up to 4300. Changing 50 USD gives you a huge wad of notes as the highest note in common circulation is the 1000 Som.
* Constant offers of handshakes as if you are a close long lost pal.
* Deep drop toilets.
* Plov, lagman and somsas – the national dishes which have fueled me through the country.
* Many weddings and bridal clothing shops.
* Bed like eating areas at the tea houses where you can eat and then lie down for a siesta:
I covered the ground to the border quicker than exected and passed through a particularly scenic mountain area around Derbent:
I spent the extra days in Termiz and Denau, which according to a fellow cyclist has the best supermarket this side of Georgia!
Both towns offered a taste of normal urban Uzbek life and the sanctuary of my own hotel room away from any interrogations and prying eyes.